He stood in the darkness, arms folded across his chest – the shadow of a mountain. Bulging eyes, a perfect row of white teeth leering down at her like a steroidal Cheshire cat. He was bigger than before, more muscular (if that were possible), his clothes barely containing the power lurking beneath. He has shaved his head. Gone was the beautiful blond hair she caressed at night when they laid in bed naked and breathless. The only memory of that happy time was the scar, her farewell present. She should have driven the ax home, made sure his was dead, but there he stood – the Compound’s Tower.
She roared, coming at him with a kick aimed to shatter his knee. He battered the attack away, his manic grin that of a tomcat toying with his meal. She rolled with the force of the blow, scrapping her arms in a carpet of shattered glass. Eura looked up, face red with shallow cuts and eyes aflame with rage. The thugs laughed from somewhere far away, but they were nothing. Her mind and body focused on this man – the Compound’s foremost hell hound.
Eura scooped up a handful of glass and tossed it at the Tower’s face, dashing at full force in the same instant. The Tower closed his eyes against the barrage, covering face with arms. Eura leapt and, legs extended, drove her kick into the Tower’s stomach. As he fell, she grabbed the back of his neck to fall with him. He hit the ground with a sigh, the wind driven from his lungs. She was on top of him now, only this time was different. She pummeled his face. Quick, successive jabs striking him left and right. Blood oozed from his nose as a blow shattered the cartilage.
His punch was too quick, like getting clubbed with a tree. She howled and rolled off him. Laughing through the blood and pain, the Tower rose.
“Good, little dumpling. Glad to see you haven’t gone soft out in the wild.”
The thugs encircled them in a wall of laughter and taunting. If she was going to die here, killing the Tower would make it easier.
“Why are you here?” he asked.
She spat. “To kill you.”
“Bullshit,” the Tower chortled. “You’ve been gone for months then just show up? In the middle of the damned desert? No, no you came for something else.” He turned a cautious eye toward the garage. “New wheels? Is that all? Shit, Eura, I’ll get you some damned wheels. A hundred if you need them.”
“I don’t need your help,” she growled.
“Like hell you don’t. You look like shit, Eura. Wasting away like the rest of the damned world. I tell you, being away from home, makes you decay.”
Home. The lying fuck. Prison was a more apt word. Or human laboratory.
The Tower went on.
“Why don’t you go back and talk to Stagger? He misses you, Eura.”
“Don’t say his name!”
“What? Stagger?” the Tower’s teeth shone like stars in the reflected lights. “He’s your father, Eura, and a father misses his children.”
She fingered the pistol grips. A quick draw and two rounds. She could drop him and maybe a couple of thugs before they had time to react. Afterward, a hail of gunfire and the end of her world.
“Planning on something, dumpling?” the Tower said, arms folded, eye brows raised, daring her to move, challenging her to draw. He knew how quick she was, damn quick, but with such confidence… Could he bridge the fifteen foot gap in less than a second? If so, what had Stagger done to him?
“No,” she said. She raised a hand to her breast pocket and felt the outline of the photo pressing through the fabric. The image clear as if embossed in her mind. The Tower stood between her and azure seas, but looming behind him was Stagger’s great shadow. Stagger was reaching out all over this ruined world, gripping everyone and everything in his hungry empire. She could no more out run it than turn back the clock before the End Times. “I just want out, Paal.”
The Tower’s eyes narrowed, studying his prey and wondering what game she was playing.
“There is no out, Eura,” he said. “You know that. The Compound takes what it wants and Stagger wants it all. No on leaves without his say so.”
Eura bit her tongue, forcing herself to speak words she’d never uttered to anyone.
The Tower laughed.
“Never thought you’d say stupid shit like that, little dumpling! But it seems I was wrong. You have grown soft, and this hard world has no place for soft things.” He pursed his lips in thought. “I’m taking you back, Eura. Stagger will put the steel back in you.”
She pulled the pistols. The Tower sprang forward, his punch a locomotive. She flew back ten feet, bowling through the thugs behind her. Hoots and hollers. She opened an eye, gasping for air. The Tower picked up her weapons and crushed them in a meaty hand like a child’s playthings. Eura struggled to her feet.
“Come on then,” the Tower’s said through a manic grin. “If you really want out, get through me.”
She did, rushing at him like a hurricane. He brought down a left hook. She sprang out the way. The fist crashed into the pavement, bits of asphalt flying from the impact. Eura pivoted mid-air, landed as light as a gazelle, and vaulted to the Tower’s flank. She kicked him with all the force of her unnatural momentum in the small of his back. He roared, grabbed her leg, and flung her through The Repair Shop window. She bounded off the counter and landed cat-like with the look of a sprinter ready to race.
Silence filled by the tinkle of the last of the glass rainfall. The Tower sauntered toward her, glass crunching underfoot, the flashlights flooding from behind. A specter of death. She couldn’t beat him. Not like this. He was too damn strong, and much quicker than before.
What had Stagger done?
She had to find out. Had to know how that madman modded him, and if that meant going back, then so be it. She would return home, and burn it to the ground.
But first she had to kill the Tower.
She made a frantic search for a weapon, but found only rags, empty soda bottles, and nearly spent cartons of motor oil. Her mind worked feverishly. Fumbling through her pockets, she found what she needed.
“Come out, little dumpling.”
Again, she obeyed. Up she came and hurled a bottle at the Tower’s face. He batted it away without breaking stride. She threw another and he deflected it. This was the tricky bit.
“Stop being coy, Eura. Come!”
Grasping one in each hand, she threw the bottles at full speed. As they spun toward their target, Eura grabbed the oil-soaked rag. Using both hands, the Tower batted the bottles away, leaving his face exposed. Eura snapped the oil-soaked rag. It rapped around his face like a turban, the foul smell of petroleum filling the room. The Tower gagged and brought a meaty palm to his face. Eura sparked the lighter.
Flames burst from the linen, traveling at blazing speed down the rag, before erupting in a ball of fire at the Tower’s face. He roared. A sound and motion ceased, as if the world where loathe to disturb the scream filled with such pain and fear. Eura watched as the Tower danced to a macabre rhythm. He writhed and clutched at his brilliant death veil while the astounded thugs watched in horror.
The fire died, it’s fuel finally spent. A heartbeat of silence, then the thunder of Compound’s Tower collapsing to the floor. One of the smarter thugs rushed to his side and unwrapped the rag, revealing the terrible ruin inside. The thugs bellowed their anger, charging in to take her, but Eura was gone.